I am a failure.
I am a disappointment.
I am a useless addict.
These are sad statements–void of hope. They are also the types of messages that substance abusers play and replay internally throughout the day. And, over time, addicts are unable to differentiate between reality and these distorted beliefs.
For those that are brave enough to seek help, this negative self-talk and shame gets carried into the treatment process. Sobriety is viewed as a “sacrifice,” a “loss,” and a devastating “void.” And while there is, indeed, a grieving process that needs to occur in treatment, it’s also time to begin viewing a substance-free life in a language of gains.
After navigating the initial highs and lows of my own break-up with alcohol, I began to embrace new terminology. Simply swapping out “sobriety” with “clarity” allowed me to view my experience in a different light. Sure, I was giving up alcohol, but I was gaining hangover-free mornings, meaningful conversations with friends, and the ability to truly feel.
In my initial months of clarity, I experienced what I coined “sober surprises.” These small actualizations slowly derailed the negative train of thought I’d been riding during my years of alcohol abuse. Perhaps the most life-altering of all my “sober surprises” was the realization that life could be fun without alcohol. To someone who doesn’t abuse substances, this statement is a given. But to a person who lived and breathed for alcohol, this was a major epiphany.
And with each additional month of clarity came a greater unfolding of this truth. I no longer had to preface conversations with “I may have already told you this, but …”. Blackouts were gone. I could splurge on that adorable little dress or that fancy restaurant because I hadn’t spent all of my “fun money” on booze. And looking in the mirror no longer triggered a slew of self-criticism. My skin and hair and weighted eyes bounced back.
And with each of these small gains, my spirit bounced back too. The woman I’d deemed “long gone” re-emerged–more energized, creative, and beautiful than before. As for the me that felt like a failure, a disappointment, and a useless addict? She no longer exists. When faced with the onslaught of joy that accompanied my recovery, she crumbled in dust at my feet.
To approach sobriety with a sense of sacrifice is to do yourself a tremendous disservice. What initially feels like the ultimate “letting go” is, in reality, the greatest gain you will ever experience. And over time, that negative internal dialogue will be replaced by one irrefutable truth: you are worthy.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.